The ‘Good’ Hacker: Michael Brennan, PhD’12, Computer Science

Drexel 40 Under 40This is reposted from Drexel University articled titled “The Drexel 40 Under 40“.

Michael Brennan says three or four years ago, his job wouldn’t have existed. As a principal technologist and project manager at SecondMuse, Brennan works to bring together volunteers that can program and design software to solve problems for social impact.

“We take a humble approach to technology,” he says. “We don’t believe technology can solve every problem we face, but many organizations are resource-strapped and don’t have the ability to hire technologists or programmers or computer scientists to help them with problems that are really solvable by software or other kinds of technology.”

Brennan first got involved in the civic hacker community by volunteering to organize a Random Hacks of Kindness event.

Random Hacks of Kindness coordinates events around the world for volunteers to connect with nonprofits and NGOs to solve problems such as disaster relief, poverty, food security and open government through the use of technology. He ran the event in Philadelphia with the help of Drexel’s computer science department and members of Philadelphia’s burgeoning tech community.

“We had a really successful event, and we created some projects that are still in use today in Philadelphia that help with things like access to healthy food and access to homeless shelters,” Brennan says. “[Philadelphia has] a very active civic hacker community and civic programmer community looking at city infrastructure in new ways and trying to reduce the cost of making our city a better place through things like green infrastructure and technology.”

The Philadelphia events were so successful that SecondMuse reached out to him to help organize Random Hacks of Kindness at the global level. Since then, Brennan has traveled the world meeting with government and community leaders to discuss how technology can add value to and solve issues in their communities. Most recently, Brennan and SecondMuse have been organizing a domestic violence hackathon in Central America.

“We went around to six different countries in Central America and worked with organizations to try and understand the problems that could be solved through software.”

And though he says he loves the traveling aspect of his position, Brennan says what initially drew him to Drexel and Philadelphia is what has led him to stay permanently involved in the University and city communities—unlimited potential.

“Drexel has allowed me to be flexible in my idea of what a computer scientist is, and in using my skills in computer science to make the world a better place,” Brennan says. “Things like Random Hacks of Kindness are relatively new in the realm of computer science—especially academic computer science. I was looking for that, and I found that at Drexel.” – Maria Zankey

Michael Brennan

About Michael Brennan

Michael Brennan leads projects focused on technology and social impact such as the National Day of Civic Hacking. He also leads SecondMuse’s Internet Freedom program which focuses on needfinding and localization to enable safe, secure access to the Internet around the world. He has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Drexel University where he co-founded their Privacy, Security and Automation Lab. Michael is passionate about catalyzing positive social change through open technology communities, socially conscious software development, and free and open access to the Internet.

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